VAN Jan/Feb 2014: Rebecca Strain, ‘Snooping and Shooting in the Dark’


artsaboutyaColumn: Making It
REBECCA STRAIN
SNOOPING & SHOOTING IN THE DARK

“Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today.”

Walter De Maria, On Boxes for Meaningless Work, 1961

My key priority over the last 12 months has been to make sense of the reverse culture shock I experienced since returning to a changed homeland (after 12 years studying, training and working as an artist in England) and trying to use my skills, experience and qualifications to support myself – both morally and financially.

This process has involved general snooping and shooting in the dark, suffering perpetual rejection and a sparse scattering of acceptance. This has been coupled with nervous anxiety about potential failure – and generally getting myself roped into all sorts of challenging situations. As I trundle blindly onwards with arms outstretched, I’ve encountered some of the most generous, friendly and warm-hearted beings and fabulously interesting personalities along the way. Some of them I’ve discovered in awesome surroundings: under mountain peaks, on islands and facing gales at the edge of the world.

Finding myself back in Milford, Donegal, living with my parents, I made a shop job into a performative art job. Throughout the day, I answered the questions put to me by old acquaintances about the purpose of a MA in Fine Art, which were usually along the lines of, Why would you persist with a laborious activity that is at times detrimental to your health for no foreseeable monetary gain?

Happily, this paved the way for an all-expenses-paid residency at Cló, the print studio located in the Donegal Gaeltacht at the foot of Mt Errigal, and later an exhibition at Hive Emerging in Waterford. At Cló, I made alliances with other professional artists: Ian Gordon, Sarah Lewtas, Heidi Nguyen, Sue Morris, Anna Marie Savage, Ian Joyce and Oona Hyland. I still converse regularly with Sue in Sligo and Anna Marie in Newry; each of us nurturing the creative a seed that fell on fertile ground during our spring shared in Cló, where we collaborated on ‘Ceamara Agus Other Pinhole Devices’, which included a rather spectacular tinfoil covered car.

After my brief time spent as gaelige, I was whisked off to Inis Ceithleann (around the time of the G8 conference) following a successful application to Harnessing Creativity, a programme for creative enterprise based in the North West. Myself and another 11 selected artists were tasked with developing a ‘creative lab’ in response to the town of Enniskillen and the context of the political, economic and environmental discourse. At first, I felt that my presence in this context was somewhat random, but I resolved to go with the flow, experiment with the elements and concoct a ‘creative enterprise’.

The outcome was another ‘performative occupation’, which has evolved into an ongoing project that involves making hand-made circular paper as a portable medium to exchange and disperse the revolutionary thoughts of thinkers. Those featured include philosopher Edward deBono, graphic designer Kenya Hara, architect and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte and Catholic theologian John O’Donohue.

Harnessing Creativity assisted me in acquiring a six-meter wide hexagonal mobile pop up art venue, which I’ve also been using as a workspace; if all else fails at least I have a roof of sorts over my head. It has already been used at Ebrington Square in Derry for an exhibition of works by Landscape Ireland, which in turn was used to entice participants into the David Shrigley drawing activity at the Turner Prize.

Nine months after my return to Ireland, I’ve finally bagged myself a more-or-less regularly paying job. In September 2013, I was appointed Project Co-ordinator at Artlink Ltd, which is located at the military base at Fort Dunree in Inishowen, Donegal. My role is making an unfunded organisation survive in the wilds of the 33rd county on a JobBridge scheme. As well as learning to be ‘at work’ in a ‘job’ – complying with government bureaucracy, remembering not to pull all-nighters on sideline projects and fail to arrive at the appointed time to be present at ‘work’ – I’m immersed in dialogue with great artists: Christine Mackey, Conor McFeely, Sara Graevu, Cathal McGinley, Phillip McFadden, Sebastiano Furci and John Beattie, as well as my colleagues Patricia Spokes and Declan Sheehan.

Besides my local and national contacts, I’m also in regular contact with artist Damaso Reyes from New York, whom I met on a residency in Tallinn back in 2010. Damaso is also a mentor to aspiring photographers and maintains an informative and opinionated blog, www.damasoreyes.com. We contribute to each other’s work through online conversations, including the odd wine fuelled Skype party / debate. Our current line of conversational enquiry follows ideas of ‘frivolous activity’, in particular the work of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We are looking at how, just like artists, the FDA is plugging away at a cause they are passionate about, which improves wellbeing in society but in the main falls on blind eyes. Despite getting little attention and recognition they get up every day and do their work; and so do I.

Rebecca Strain
www.artsaboutya.com/blog